Economy might just cost Tories the election

Tue Oct 7, 2008 11:10pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The slide in the polls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives has been so steep as voters worry about the economy that the possibility of his losing the upcoming Canadian election is now being raised.

The Conservatives have led in the polls throughout the short campaign for the October 14 election and are still ahead but the momentum generally moved against them this month as near panic struck stocks and gloomy headlines dominated the news.

Political strategist Rick Anderson said Harper is being hit by perceptions he has failed to act to prevent credit-crisis contagion from damaging Canada.

"This nonengagement on his and the public's primary issue is hurting him badly, threatening not just that sought majority (in Parliament) but unless he gets on top of this, conceivably even re-election," Anderson said.

Two polls on Tuesday put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals by just 3 to 5 percentage points, less than half the 10 to 15 points seen in the first half of the campaign. A third poll on Tuesday night showed a slight recovery for the Conservatives, to a 9-point lead.

Harper, who admitted on Tuesday to not being "emotionally expressive," maintains Canada's banks and households are in good shape, affected, but not paralyzed, by the crisis that has swallowed homes and banks in the United States and elsewhere.

His government has been in regular contact with the central bank, the banks and the regulatory agency that oversees the banks, and he said on Tuesday the government would probably take new steps this week to alleviate the credit crunch.

Harper, who won the January 2006 election with a minority of seats, had taken an early lead in the polls on the strength of his pitch that a steady hand was needed for uncertain economic times, but that was before markets started plunging.   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a television interview in Toronto October 7, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>